This is going back a ways, but as I promised, Semana Santa 2011. Also, click on the photos to see a larger version if you want.
Domingo de Ramos
This day started with a procession. The whole town gathered down on the highway at the Capilla del Señor de Antahuayla. This is the cross of Andahuaylillas (Antahuayla was the name of Andahuaylillas before the Spaniards changed it to be more Spanish sounding) and Holy Week starts with a procession to carry the cross from its capilla up to the church for the week. This is also where the blessing of the palms took place so that everyone could carry palms up with the cross as well. Along the route up to the church there were these lines hanging across the street with flowers, bread, fruit and other things hanging from it. Once the cross passed underneath these lines it was fair game to reach/jump up to pull the stuff down…and by “fair game”, I mean free-for-all.
Once we got to the church the place was packed. Something I had not seen since arriving…there was absolutely no room for anyone to sit. The choir was spread out across the entire church because we hadn’t thought to reserve benches ahead of time since the church had never been this full. So with more than 300 people we celebrated the Palm Sunday mass.
This day usually passes without notice in the US. While there might be more people who got to mass this day or whatnot because it is Holy Week, it is a day we do not usually mark. This is the opposite here in Andahuayillas and the greater Cusco area. This is the day that we celebrate El Señor de los Temblores (Christ of the Earthquakes). In 1650 there was a massive earthquake in Cusco which destroyed many buildings and damaged the Cathedral. And somehow this image of Christ survived the destruction and was henceforth known as El Señor de los Temblores. People have a high reverence for this image of Christ and he is found in most communities throughout the Cusco valley. And every Holy Monday is the day he is brought out from the churches and processed throughout communities. For us this means taking the cross down from the altar where it normally sits throughout the year and placing it in a special stand that is then carried throughout the whole town. And by the whole town I mean the whole town. The entire procession took about 4.5 hours. We would go a few blocks, stop, place the cross on a table, and then we prayed and sang before moving on. I’m not very good with estimating the number of people at events, but my guess is that by the end of the procession (circa 8:30pm) there were over 1,000 people in the procession, and if you weren’t in the procession you were waiting at the church for the return of Señor de los Temblores.
Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday
These days were less busy in the parish. We were doing a lot of planning for the rest of the week, but there wasn’t too much going on. Wednesday afternoon we hosted a group of jovenes for the first of several sessions on what Holy Week means, but this day wasn’t too intensive as only a handful showed up.
This is where the big work of the parish started kicking in. And to complicate things, Padre Oscar was called away to serve as the pastor in another parish so a different priest, Padre Cesar, came in from Lima to celebrate the rest of Holy week with Andahuaylillas. Fortunately most of the plans were set on what we were going to do for the washing of the feet, the Hora Santa, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil, so it was a matter of filling in Padre Cesar and working to get things done. For me, the largest part of my work was putting together a 2 hour long community prayer service for after mass on Thursday evening. It is something that is done to accompany Jesus while he is in the Garden at Gethsemane. The idea we had was to show clips of a video followed by reflection questions, followed by a prayer, followed by a bit of silence, followed by a song. And we repeated this sequence 8 times. Each time through we varied the form of prayer drawing from things like responsorial Psalms and poetry. Half of the songs we sang were also in Quechua which was cool to listen to, but I still don’t understand most of what is said to me in Quechua. The video clips I selected started with the entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and followed his life up through the 3 denials of Peter. Each clip was between 2 and 3 minutes so as to not be too long and to give us something concrete on which to focus the reflection questions. And everything was done through Powerpoint; kind of cool to bring 21st century technology into the 16th century church.
At the beginning of the service there might have been close to 75 people in the church, and by the end there were more than 50 so I was happy to see that enough people found what we did useful enough to stay until 10:30pm. Some of the nuns stayed long enough to thank me for putting it together saying that it was a really cool experience and a really helpful guide in community prayer for that evening. That meant a lot to me, because I was unsure how people would respond to what we did. Sometimes change isn’t easily embraced in such a small town, but those who were there thought it went well. Now we just have to think of how we can improve or change it for next year!
Morning came quickly today. After going to be late on Thursday, we were up at 4am to hike up into the mountains to pick flowers. We walked along the highway for about 90 min to a mountain on the outside of Huarcapay where a lot of wild flowers grown. I walked with one of the nuns and a volunteer who lives with the nuns. We were going to pick flowers for the parish so that we could create an alfombra in the church. Creating alfombras is something that many families in Andahuaylillas do in the streets for the Good Friday procession. Around 6am things started to get light and around 6:30 we were hiking up the mountain from the highway. It was a really pretty way to start the day, because daybreak in the valley gives you a lot of colors and a lot of cool views. We then spent a couple hours picking different colored flowers to carry back. Once the sun came over the mountain top, we realized why this is an activity for the wee hours of the morning…the temperature quickly rose and we decided it was time to join the masses heading back to Andahuaylillas. Only this time, instead of walking the 90mins back, we flagged down the first bus and rode back to town.
After leaving the flowers in the temple I helped to hang up the signs for the procession which would take place in the afternoon. We had to mark where the Stations of the Cross would take place while on the procession. After this was accomplished, it was time for a rest before lunch. One of the most interesting traditions of Andahuaylillas is the tradition of the 12 plates. While the rest of the world is fasting on Good Friday we live in a place where you eat 12 plates of food for lunch before the Stations of the Cross procession. Lili invited me to eat at her house with her family. We did not end up eating 12 entire plates, but instead stopped at 9. There were 4 soups, 1 plate of fried trout w/ potatoes, and 4 plates of dessert. The trout was unbelievably delicious, but of everything, the plate that stands out to me was the mazamorra de calabaza … essentially a sugary, soupy, dessert of pumpkin.The alfombra for the parish…distinct honor of actually being inside of the church
Immediately following the lunch we went to the church for adoration of the cross which ended with El Señor de los Temblores being taken down from the cross and placed in a giant glass coffin. After we had all passed by the coffin the in the church, the procession began. The empty cross was in the lead, followed by the glass coffin, followed by a mourning Virgin Mary. As we left the church the band began to follow too and would accompany us throughout the entire procession. My job in this procession was to play the matraca at the front of the procession. Because you are not allowed to ring the bells of the church between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil we have this instrument called the matraca we play instead. It is a heavy and cumbersome instrument to play, so I shared the duty with Onassis who also works in the church. The idea was that we were announcing the movement of the procession, alerting people in the streets that it was coming. Although I feel that most people were aware of its presence, it was still something they looked for. So for the following 5 hours I, along with Onassis, would shake the matraca announcing the coming of Christ’s coffin.
While there were 14 scheduled stops of the coffin for the Stations, we ended up making over 30 stops because we stopped at every house that had placed a table out in the street. This is also where all the alfombras come into play. Many families had arranged their flowers in the streets to create images for the cross and coffin to pass over. It was all very cool, very beautiful. While I thought the procession on Monday was really big, this one came in at over 2,500 people by the time it ended. And when we arrived back in the plaza there were over 500 more people waiting to receive the procession.
One of the most interesting things that I didn’t realize until the end was that the image of Mary in mourning was only carried by women. Of the three it was by far the heaviest and carried by women throughout the whole 5 hour procession. And they sang. They sang as they carried it. Christ’s coffin had a band, but these women sang for 5 hours as they carried Mary. Granted they had rotations and invited volunteers to carry her too, but still, it was quite impressive and showed a real connection that they have as women, as mother to the Virgin Mary.
This day I spent with the jovenes on a retreat. We discussed many of the themes of Easter and what they meant to us. The Jesuits and Nuns were in charge of leading it which was awesome to be able to simply participate. Afterwards we invited those who wanted to help set things up for the Easter Vigil (which is celebrated at 4am on Sunday morning as opposed to Saturday night) to stay the night in the Retreat House. Things we had to do were prepare the readings, prepare the fire out front of the church, create cardboard things for the candles so as to not drop wax on the floor of the church, make hot chocolate for 400 people, and cut up fruit cake for 400 as well. By the end of all this it was midnight, and I went to bed knowing that I would have to be awake at 3am.
To celebrate the Easter vigil at 4am Sunday morning was a new experience. Several hundred people showed up too, which surprised me. We started outside the church in the plaza with the fire in a pit, and after this service of the light we proceeded into a dark church. It was really neat to have several hundred people in the church in darkness except for the candles. The service proceeded as normal, and after the priest had invited us to extinguish our candles there was a power outage so everyone immediately relit their candles and the mass continued in candle light. One of the really cool aspects of having this service at 4am is that as the service progressed the sun began to rise symbolizing the new day, the resurrection, the life that comes from Easter. So cool. Mass ended, and then there was a procession of the monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament through the plaza. At this time we, and the jovenes, went to the kitchen to bring out the hot chocolate and fruit cake we had prepared. When everyone made it back to the church we then broke bread and drank hot chocolate together, which gave it all a more Christmas feel than Easter feel, but everyone enjoyed their food.
And after all the Easter festivities in Andahuaylillas (including the 11am Reserruction mass) we got out of the town to find our Easter duck.
So this was a long long post about what Semana Santa looked like in Andahuaylillas. I’m planning on another post to write more about what Easter felt like here. Also to expand more upon what my first year as a Catholic (celebrated on April 25) looked like, and where things are headed from here. Thanks for reading!